What’s God’s will for your life as a college student? While there are countless mysterious facets to the providence of God, one thing is abundantly clear from the Bible: God intends for you to be fully mature in Christ. To put it another way, God’s will for every Christian is that they would consistently and progressively grow to be more like Jesus.
That’s why the Apostle Paul singled out this as his great ambition for the believers in Colossae and shaped his ministry the way he did: “We proclaim him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. I labor for this, striving with his strength that works powerfully in me” (Colossians 1:28-29, CSB).
If you’re a college student, this is God’s good plan for your life not only in the future, but right now, where he has placed you. So how can you actively pursue this? How can you wisely and faithfully pursue godly spiritual formation in this unique season, so that when you complete your studies you’ll not only be a credentialed graduate, but a more devoted and mature disciple of Jesus?
First, genuine Christian spiritual formation will be biblical.
To put it plainly, you cannot grow as a disciple of Christ without the word of Christ.
As a kid, I remember singing the simple song, “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you will grow, grow, grow” countless times. And while we could say more about the ingredients of Christian development, we certainly cannot say less.
If you are not feeding on God’s Word, you will starve. Why is that?
God uses his word to birth and to strengthen our faith: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV).
God uses his word to direct and lead us in paths of wisdom: “Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path” (Psalm 110:105).
God uses his word to convict us of his sin and to assure us of his gracious promises: “If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10).
Never before has the Bible been more readily available to a culture than it is in our time. We have multiple translations, countless editions, study Bibles, on paper, digital form, and even as audio books. And yet, the Scripture sits neglected.
If you want to grow, open your Bible and read. It’s never wasted. It’s never in vain. God always works through his word in the life of his people, whether you “feel” it or not: “So my word that comes from my mouth will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please and will prosper in what I send it to do,” promises the Lord (Isaiah 55:11).
Read the Bible. Pray the Bible. Sing the Bible. Memorize the Bible. You’ll be amazed what God will do through it in the course of your life.
Second, genuine Christian formation will be christocentric.
If your pursuit of Christian maturity does not have the person and work of Christ as its central focus, it’s a fool’s errand.
Practically speaking, this directs us toward certain practices and away from others.
If your spiritual practices turn your attention inward on yourself, they will fall short. Of course, we all need to take measure of our weakness, confessing our sin to one another and to the Lord. There’s an appropriate and healthy measure of introspection that should mark any Christian who wants to grow. But if our spiritual practices wallow in ourselves and never lift our gaze up to the resurrected Christ who has conquered sin and death for all who are his by faith, then we don’t have much hope.
How much of your prayer life is spent adoring and praising Christ for his power, majesty, wisdom, love, grace, and glory?
This also means that certain expressions of devotion, or spiritual practice, are simply out of bounds for the Christian. We do not look to any other person, living or alive, to be our advocate before God, to be the source of our spiritual strength, or to provide eternal hope and security for us. We can honor Mary, but we do not venerate or pray to her. We rejoice in and honor the legacy of faithful Christian before us in the history of the church. But we do not pray to saints to intercede on our behalf. If Jesus is our great high priest, then we have all we need in him.
Third, genuine Christian formation will be church-based.
It’s true that each of us is called, as individuals, to daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus. No one is saved apart from personal faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. And yet, an overly individualized Christianity can distort our understanding of the Christian life and what God’s good design is for our spiritual formation.
I’m not very knowledgeable about race car driving. But I find one element of racing absolutely fascinating: drafting. When one car trails after another, it exploits the slipstream created by the lead car and gains an aerodynamic benefit: it can go faster with less energy.
The analogy isn’t a perfect one. But there’s a parallel for our spiritual formation. God did not design you to grow as a Christian in spiritual isolation. His wonderful design is for each believer to be part of a local community, a church, that will function as an embassy of his kingdom in this world and bear witness to his gospel in word and deed.
Podcasts won’t do it.
“Internet church” won’t do it.
Conferences with celebrity Christians won’t do it.
Not even a Christian college will do it.
It means showing up on Sunday for corporate worship, to be sure. We are commanded, after all: “And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).
Spiritual formation flourishes in corporate worship, but perhaps not in the ways you think. It’s not always going to be the electric buzz in the room during the music, nor will it always be that moment when the preaching seems to be especially powerful or moving. The Christian life is a lot more like the instructions on the back of your shampoo bottle: lather, rinse, and repeat. In the ordinary rhythm of life, as the word of God is heard, received, and applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we gradually grow in Christlikeness. Our hearts are challenged, idols are revealed, affections tested, and faith strengthened. We go under the waters of baptism and witness others do the same. We share in the Lord’s meal, eating and drinking in remembrance together of what God has done in Christ to form a people for himself from every nation, tribe, and tongue by grace. And we rejoice together that the King of the universe brings rebels like us home, into his family.